Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NBC (Finally) Sacks Silverman

*I know no one out there besides me cares about this (great way to start a post, huh?) but found this fascinating article (below) about what's going on over at the NBC network. Peacock head-honcho Ben Silverman was (finally) let go yesterday and despite a HORRENDOUS track record, Tim Goodman from the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the network's recent slump may not entirely be Silverman's fault. When it comes to TV, I know most of you only care about who the Bachelorette chose or why Kim and Reggie broke up but it's these behind-the-scenes moves that affect what we actually get to watch.

NBC fires Ben Silverman. But don't blame him.

Daily Variety perfectly summed up today's firing of NBC entertainment chairman Ben Silverman by saying "speculation over Silverman's fate at the network has been on-going from almost the moment he set foot at the Peacock." Indeed it has. Silverman was never a good fit as an entertainment president (he's best at packaging shows for sale, not in running a network with a real vision). This was clear to pretty much everybody but NBC. That Silverman will be remembered for continuing to run NBC into the ground is a legacy he can shake by, say, tomorrow, because it's not too difficult to assume that the next person will do precisely the same thing.

And yet - and yet! - NBC's announcement that Jeff Gaspin, who was running NBC Universal's cable side, will take over for Silverman is actually a move that might work. Gaspin is a smart guy and always has been, back to his MTV Network days. He's savvy, if a little slick, and he's certainly an NBC loyalist and believer. Can he turn things around? Sure, if he gets some autonomy. Because there's a reason NBC is in the sorry state that it is - and that reason is Gaspin's boss, Jeff Zucker. If you want to get really technical about it, the bad decisions pre-date Zucker, the former "Today" show whiz. NBC's brass, such as it is, should never have hired Zucker in the first place.

That he's gone up the ranks from entertainment president to NBC Universal president and CEO despite the network underachieving speaks more to corporate decision-making, dollar saving and penny pinching than anything else. I have no doubt that Zucker knows how appease corporate bosses with money saving strategies and whatnot, but he could never program a network and when he finally hired someone who could - Kevin Reilly - he ended up firing him (and letting him walk over to Fox).

If Gaspin gets some independence from Zucker, he might be able to implement some changes at NBC. For starters - making better series. Though the timing of Silverman's firing means Gaspin will be able to be the face of the network when it rolls into TCA, it's unclear how much input he had on any of the upcoming fall shows. If it's true that Silverman's fate was shaky from Day 1, then who knows how many hands were involved in the creation of the fall series. I'll guess Gaspin himself will be able to tell us when NBC shows up. And that, coincidentally, is when the clock starts ticking on his tenure.

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